We all long to feel passion
We are promised by the sages that if we follow our passion, we will accomplish great things, fulfill dreams, and find happiness. But are passion and obsession the same thing? On the outside, passion can look very much like obsession, but there are important distinctions.
Passion is a life giving emotion that feeds us. Passion meets all or most of the 6 human emotional needs of certainty/stability, variety/adventure, connection, significance, growth and contribution. Because these needs are met, we choose to pursue our passion. We are happy to do it and share it. Since we spend so much time involved in it, we tend to grow and use it to give back to others. We feel affirmed by it. We are proud of ourselves and our accomplishments. Passion is healthy. When we are passionate, we tend to be our best most productive selves.
Obsession, on the other hand, is not healthy. It tends to be about meeting one need where we feel an incredible lack versus meeting all our needs. Where passion tends to give us a feeling of being more involved in life, obsession tends to be about escaping life.
We choose to indulge in passion. We often feel powerless over our obsession. Passion helps to solidify a sense of identity while obsession tends to weaken it. When we are obsessive, we tend to lose ourselves.
To put this into perspective, let’s imagine that there are two performing artists. “Leah” is passionate while “Pia” is obsessive.
Leah accidentally stumbled upon performing when she was assigned a part in a school play. The enthusiastic comments and applause let her know that she was good at what she did. This provided her with a sense of certainty and significance. When the show was over, she found that she missed it. She joined the community theater where she met other people who liked what she liked (giving her connection), could study different roles (giving her variety and growth), learn more about theater productions (growth) and perform again (signficance).
Leah went on to study performing arts in college. She spent her free time going to workshops, watching shows, and reading trade publications about acting. Eventually most of her friends were also performing artists. She engaged a coach when she could afford it and thought she might teach acting after college to allow her to work in the area that she loved and share it with children. Leah’s involvement in performing arts made her happy, enhanced her life, and gave her life meaning.
Pia starred out in the same school play as Leah. She also enjoyed enthusiastic applause and searched for more opportunities to perform afterward. Although the same benefits of performing were available to Pia, the thing that was most important to her was significance. She had a lot of brothers and sisters and never felt that she was very important as a child. One of her sisters was always being singled out as being the “pretty one.” Another was really smart. One brother was prized for being very good in sports. The other stood out for being “the bad one.” Before acting, Pia felt she had no identity at all. Consequently, being recognized for being on stage was all she could think about. It gave her a way to feel like somebody.
Pia got a coach right away. She spent all her time rehearsing and videotaping herself. She beat herself up every time she saw a flaw. She worked tirelessly to be perfect. She knew she was competing with prettier more talented girls for parts, so she got a nose job to make her nose a little more perky. She got breast augmentation. When she was 23, she got her first botox injections. She worked out like a fiend to make sure she didn’t have an ounce of fat or a single dimple of cellulite.
Every time she got turned down for a job, Pia privately berated herself while projecting outwardly that she didn’t care. Her focus always turned to how she could give herself an edge over the competition. She became creative in subtle ways to sabotage other people’s confidence. If she thought that sex would give her an edge, she made herself available. The bad part was that no matter how much significance Pia felt when landing a part or performing, it was always short lived and never enough. She felt like she was on a hamster wheel with the biggest prize always ahead of her.
So how do you tell? Is it passion or obsession? The bottom line is, if you are single-mindedly pursuing a dream and doing things in the pursuit of that interest that leave you feeling unhappy or dissatisfied, you are obsessed. Passion gives joy. Obsession steals joy. Find out what emotional need you are trying to meet and figure out a healthy way to get it.